SLIGO: From top of the world to rock bottom – music can reach your heart and mind

It was icy cold. A 4-1 drubbing by Cork City didn’t exactly lift my spirits. I was in two minds about what I’d do next when exiting the Showgrounds gates. Turn right and head to my getaway home in Oakfield or turn left towards the cosiness and warmth of Thomas Connolly’s pub.


John Joe, Tabby, Seamie and Kieran

In recent years it has become my ‘local’ drinking quarters for a whole lot of reasons. Monday is one of the deadest nights of the week anywhere in the world but remarkably it works the opposite way in Connollys. That’s due to the residency of piano maestro Kieran Quinn and highly respected and acclaimed fellow musician Seamie O’Dowd on guitar. Under the banner ‘Trad Fusion’ they enthral a loyal following of music lovers every week. Visiting artists from Sligo’s rich fraternity of musicians often join them. I’ve witnessed Cathy Jordan, Gerry Grennan and Steve Wickham mix their skillset with this duet over recent months. Tonight local legend Tabby O’Callaghan and gifted John Joe Kelly on bodhran joined them. John Joe brings his instrument on journeys only replicated by the likes of Martin Hayes on his fiddle. I remember witnessing Hayes in Vicar Street and before he started one particular tune he advised us that he didn’t know how long it would go on for or how it would end. It’s a bit like that in Connollys every week. Tabby is only getting the hang of things there, as he admits himself.

Sligo Rovers fail to find the music against Cork City

With a creamy pint of Guinness in front of me and a quick postmortem about Rovers’ performance with barman Sean, I was glad I had chosen live music over television for the night. The standard of music there is exceptional. You wouldn’t get anything like it in the country. If you ever have a free Monday night it would be worth traveling especially to hear it. And people gather specially for it. A weekly fix. Paul has this place rocking with a rich and eclectic mix of music five days weekly. The Irish pub is far from dead.

There’s always a highlight. A new song. A different interpretation of a classic or a cryptic melodic intro by Kieran to a song we all love. Tonight it was a song by Tabby that reached out to me. I think it was the song of the night. It certainly raised the spirits of the weather wearied customers. It was ‘Top of the World’ made famous by the Carpenters. Tabby is a superb vocalist and guitarist and he truly made this song his own. It resonated with me because it reminded me of Karen Carpenter from that sister/brother sensation. Their success was before my time but I remember that song as a child. A good song is always a good song. Herself and her brother Richard sold over 90 million records during the late sixties and early seventies. Paul McCartney described her voice as ‘the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.’ Rolling Stone placed her in the 100 greatest singers of all time list. She was beautiful but sadly anorexia claimed her life at 32 years in 1983. I hadn’t heard the song since I was a child but it reached out to me. It reminded me of our inbuilt vulnerability – how we can go from ‘top of the world’ to rock bottom in a flash. Thin lines indeed. We need to mind ourselves and we need to reach out with love to those who find themselves in the darkness.

Karen Carpenter

Monday was a great night and music is without doubt therapeutic. For as long as humans have beaten the daylights out of bodhrans, plucked melodies from strings or pounded piano keys – listening to music has affected people’s sense of well-being, lifting their spirits and – as new research shows – calming their nerves. The musician’s brain chemistry undergoes revolutionary positive change but the real miracle is in how it reaches out to others. Long live Thomas Connollys on Mondays and may Sligo’s rich musical tradition never die. Leaving via the Holborn Street exit I said to Raymond and John – Great music there tonight. ‘Where would you get it?’ they muttered as the smoke blew into the frosty air.

(c) Shane Martin

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